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Alex Anthopoulos is a bold, unexpected and dang good hire for the Braves

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The news late last night that the Braves are hiring Alex Anthopoulos — now confirmed; he’ll be introduced at a press conference in Atlanta later today — came as quite a surprise. Now that I’ve had a couple of hours to think about it, it’s striking me more as a coup.

The Braves are in deep with the league over rules violations in connection with the signing of international players. They are still likely facing big penalties for that and, for the time being, remain in limbo. While there were some noises coming out of Atlanta about who, possibly, might take over as the next general manager, they were decidedly muted. The big potential move — luring Dayton Moore back to Atlanta from Kansas City — was blocked by Royals owner David Glass who would not grant the Braves permission to interview him. The remaining names bandied about as a replacement GM were less-than-inspiring. Dan Jennings? Ugh. It appeared as if Atlanta was going to enter this week’s General Manager Meetings with placeholder GM John Hart at the helm. Given that he was likely to be pushed aside eventually, the Braves offseason looked pretty bleak.

Anthopoulos, however, is a top notch hire that a team in turmoil should not, all things being equal, have been able to make. He’s young — 40 — but experienced, having served as the Blue Jays’ GM for seven years after being hired in his early 30s. He’s a forward-thinking guy who values cutting edge analytics but his background is scouting and he expanded Toronto’s scouting roster during his tenure. He always seemed open to anything when he was their GM, having improved the Jays via the draft, via free agency and via some pretty audacious trades. He’d still have that job if it was not for what appeared to be philosophical differences with Jays president Mark Shapiro, who seemed to have been brought in to impose austerity measures by club ownership. Anthopoulos was offered a five-year contract extension, rejected it and resigned on the very same day he was named Executive of the Year by his peers.

His tenure with the Blue Jays was not perfect, of course. Like all executives there was good and bad. The good: trading for Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, which helped the Jays reach the playoffs. He unloaded Vernon Wells’ seemingly un-unloadable contract. He signed Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. The not-so-good: trading Roy Halladay away for what turned out to be an underwhelming haul (though it was thought to be better at the time). Dealing Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud for R.A. Dickey was not so hot either. Stuff happens.

The Braves are definitely a team that could do well with his vision, however, even if it sometimes leads to a misfire. The club has been run, basically, by the same men for several decades. Bobby Cox, John Scheurholz and John Hart haven’t been the only men to sit in the GM chair in Atlanta over the past 30 years or so, but either they or guys they picked to be there (i.e. Frank Wren, John Coppolella) were, and they’ve all had tremendous input into what the GM has done or hasn’t done at any given time. Two of them are living, breathing Hall of Famers and team legends, after all, so you could never ignore their presence, even if you wanted to.

Anthopoulos, however, appears as though he’ll have final say. Hart will remain president of baseball operations in title at least until his contract is up at the end of the year. In reality, though, Anthopoulos will be in charge, answering only to team CEO Terry McGuirk and no baseball operations people. He was unlikely to take the job if he didn’t have final say. He’ll be the first young executive with final say over the team’s direction since . . . heck, since Ted Turner bought the team when he was in his late 30s.

It’s still a bad time for the Braves. They’re likely to face stiff sanctions once MLB is done with its investigation, losing draft picks and possibly even a prospect or two who is already in their system. They’ll be dealing with these bad times, however, with a smart, able, and well-respected guy at the top of the org chart. Someone who, for the first time in decades, is not beholden to the old men who, however much success they had in Atlanta, were not the men who should’ve been leading the club into the future.

 

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.